Anyone who has ever started a new workout routine or tried some different exercises likely has experienced muscle soreness. From those “hurts-so-good” to “what-did-I-do-to-myself” experiences, soreness after workouts is a sign that you’ve definitely challenged your muscles.
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs 24-72 hours after your workout due to tiny tears in the muscles and connective tissue. Experiencing DOMS doesn’t mean that you aren’t fit – it just indicates that you increased your intensity or performed a different workout that your body must adapt to. And it typically subsides after a few days. If the pain doesn’t go away or gets worse, you may have a more serious injury and should see a medical professional for treatment.
Once your muscles adjust to your new workouts, DOMS should disappear – at least until you decide to mix things up again! And really, the only way to prevent DOMS is either not to exercise at all (obviously a BAD idea) or simply perform the same workout every time (also not good).
Staying hydrated and properly warming up and cooling down can help minimize DOMS, as well as ensuring that workout changes are gradual and progressive over time. Caffeine before exercise also may reduce muscle soreness, but be sure to hydrate with lots of water as well, as caffeine is a diuretic.
Time is really the best way to heal, but you can be proactive when treating muscle soreness with the following suggestions.
Treating Muscle Soreness
- Heat therapy – Applying heat after exercise can help reduce the pain of DOMS, and research shows that moist heat is more effective than dry heat. Try a warm bath or sit in a whirlpool, apply hot towels or use wet heating packs. Dry heating pads or wraps also are an option.
- Soak in Epsom salt – Sitting in a warm tub with Epsom salt can decrease inflammation and pain.
- Ice treatment – After using heat therapy, switch to ice to reduce swelling and nerve activity. Try an ice bath if you are brave, or stick to standard ice packs, applying for 20 minutes one to three times per day until DOMS is gone.
- Use a foam roller – Although is a “hurts-so-good” practice, self-myofascial release with a foam roller helps alleviate stiffness and muscle fatigue. While the massage process itself is pretty uncomfortable, typically you feel better afterwards.
- Get a massage – For welcome relief, massage has been shown to provide comfort for DOMS sufferers within 48 hours after exercise. Don’t request an intense sports massage, however, and instead opt for a lighter touch, like Swedish massage.
- Try compression – When worn for 24 hours after exercise, compression garments (like stockings) help to stabilize muscles and increase blood flow for faster recovery.
- Keep moving – The last thing you may want to do when coping with soreness is move more. But lighter workouts stimulate circulation and address stiffness. Don’t go all-out, of course, and stop if you are in too much pain, but even walking, swimming and gentle yoga can be beneficial.
- Attack inflammation with food – Anti-inflammatory foods, like pineapple, cherry juice and ginger can lower the pain of muscle soreness. Antioxidant supplements like curcumin in turmeric and fish oil also have been shown to be effective. And drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Take a painkiller — NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin, or acetaminophen may suppress pain, but results are mixed. Don’t take them for more than a day or two.
- Sleep – Seems obvious, but don’t skimp on sleep, as this is where protein synthesis happens, which is necessary to repair damage muscles.